HEADLINES

Yemen: HRW Publishes Cases Of Unlawful Airstrikes On Civilians

By Alistair Reign, November 28, 2015. Alistair Reign News Blog

Human Rights Watch has released a report outlining the cases of unlawful airstrikes on Yemen homes, facilities and essential services. In this article I focus on the bombings that caused fatalities to civilians; and expand with additional information.  

Amran

yemen1115_casualties_amran-02On April 11, 2015 at about 11:45 a.m., a coalition aircraft dropped two bombs near the office of the Ministry of Education in Amran, a town under Houthi control 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Sanaa. One bomb hit a single-story building housing three families about 20 meters (66 feet) outside the education ministry compound, killing four members of one family, including two women and a girl, and wounding one more.

Muhammad Saleh al-Qihwi, whose house was destroyed in the strike, said he was at the Tawheed Mosque, about 100 meters (328 feet) away, when he heard the blast:

When I got to the house, there was still dust in the air, and everything was covered in a layer of black ash. My wife and kids were lying there, covered in black ash. Thank God they were alive. I saw my sister-in-law, Asma, and her daughter under some rocks, and I tried to dig them out.

  • Asma’s head was open, and her leg was bleeding. Her 2-year-old daughter, Hyam, was lying on her shoulder, her head was smashed open. Her other daughter, Hasna, who’s 7, was shouting “Baba” [father]. Her hair and skin were covered in ash, and she was burned badly.
  • Her father, my brother Muhammad, had been asleep when the strike happened, and the roof landed on top of him. When I dug him out, there was a thin trickle of blood dripping from his ear. He was already dead.[63]
The house of Muhammad Saleh al-Qihwi was destroyed in an airstrike on April 11, 2015, killing four members of his family.( © 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch.)

The house of Muhammad Saleh al-Qihwi was destroyed in an airstrike on April 11, 2015, killing four members of his family.( © 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch.)

Al-Qihwi told Human Rights Watch that as far as he knew, there were no Houthi or other military forces or structures in the area at the time of the airstrike, nor had he seen Houthis using the education ministry building. On that morning he had not seen any Houthi vehicles on the road. He said that the only other airstrike in the area had taken place a few days earlier, and had struck a park a few kilometers away, near Amran University, but he did not know what the intended target of that strike was either. [64]

Muhammad al-Harasi, 31, a guard at the Ministry of Education building who was present at the time of the airstrike, told Human Rights Watch that he saw anti-aircraft fire coming from a mountain a couple of kilometers to the southwest. He also said that he believed that senior officials from Amran’s administration had been meeting in a nearby house.[65]

Human Rights Watch examined the site on July 23. Al-Qihwi’s house had been completely destroyed by the bomb blast, which had also blown out a section of the concrete wall surrounding the Ministry of Education compound. A second bomb had left a crater next to the road near the compound.

An attack on the Ministry of Education compound would have been unlawful, unless the compound was being used for military purposes. Civil authorities would not be legitimate military targets unless they were directly involved in planning or participating in military operations.

Abs/Kholan Prison

yemen1115_casualties_abs_prison-01At about 3:15 p.m. on May 12, just before the afternoon prayer time, two bombs hit the Abs/Kholan Prison and other buildings in Abs, a town 150 kilometers (93 miles) north of the port city of Hodaida. Thirty-three men convicted of petty crimes were incarcerated there at the time. The strikes killed at least 25 civilians, including one woman and three children, and wounded at least 18 civilians.

Human Rights Watch examined the site on July 25. The bomb hit the prison’s mosque, at the corner of the prison compound, collapsing the structure. Ali Muhammad Hassan Mualim, 55, a local builder, told Human Rights Watch that he was chewing qatwith friends at the time of the strike, in a building about 200 meters (219 yards) away and facing the prison: [66]

When I heard the explosion, I went out and ran toward the prison. I saw bodies, about 30 of them, some cut in half, some with severed limbs. Sometimes I get flashbacks to that day and I get sick—I start throwing up and get headaches.[67]

  • Among those killed were 17 prisoners, a prison guard, and two people in a shop near the prison, according to a medic at the hospital in Abs.[68] Mualim said he also saw the body of a man who had been driving by the prison on his motorcycle at the time of the attack.

The second bomb struck minutes later, hitting the home of Omar Ali Farjain, about 50 meters (164 feet) from the prison, killing his wife and three of their children.

  • The strike injured Farjain and his daughter, Maryam, 5, who was left with burns and metal fragments in her head.[69] The blast ripped the façade off the building and incinerated the family’s car parked in front.

Muhammad Ahmed Yahya Wadar, a government soldier who lost his brother in the attack, arrived at the scene right after the bombing:

I heard the bombing from home, and immediately came running to the prison. I saw torn bodies—legs and hands lying where the prison mosque used to be, including my brother Kamal’s. He was a guard at the prison. His son was wounded in the explosion as well.[70]

Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine the intended target of the attack. Khalid Ali Farjain, the brother of Omar Farjain, said he had visited the prison every day since the war began to provide food to the inmates, and that he had never seen any military activity at the prison, such as weapons stored inside or nearby, or Houthi or allied military personnel.[71]

The remains of the home of Omar Ali Farjain, hit by an airstrike on May 12, 2015. Minutes earlier, another bomb struck Abs/Kholan Prison across the street. The two attacks killed at least 25 civilians.

The remains of the home of Omar Ali Farjain, hit by an airstrike on May 12, 2015. Minutes earlier, another bomb struck Abs/Kholan Prison across the street. The two attacks killed at least 25 civilians.( © 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

One local resident said that a few dilapidated buildings near the prison belonged to the Yemeni military and had been used to house families of officers, but others denied this. Human Rights Watch discovered the chassis and parts of what appeared to be two military jeeps among the dilapidated buildings, but found no other signs that the area had been used for military purposes, or that people had recently lived in the buildings.

A National Security officer in Sanaa told Human Rights Watch that at the time of the strike, the Houthis had been holding several Saudi prisoners of war at the Abs/Kholan Prison. Human Rights Watch was unable to verify this information.[72]

Since the beginning of the war, several airstrikes in other parts of Abs targeted the military airport, a military compound, and another building off the main road that residents said was being used for military purposes.

Ordinary prisons are civilian objects that may not be targeted unless they are being used for military purposes. Had the Houthis been using the prison to hold captured combatants, it would be a legitimate military objective, though any attack would need to be proportionate, not causing more civilian casualties than the anticipated military gain of the attack.

Zabid

yemen1115_casualties_zabid-01At about 4:15 p.m. on May 12, aircraft dropped at least five bombs on the Houthi-controlled town of Zabid, 96 kilometers (0.6 miles) south of the western port city of Hodaida, killing at least 60 civilians, including 13 women and eight children, and wounding at least 155.[73]

Human Rights Watch examined the site on July 26. Three of the bombs had struck a three-story building in the middle of the Shagia market. The first bomb struck a sweets shop in the building. The second strike, which witnesses said took place about five minutes later, hit a restaurant on the building’s ground floor. The third struck the building’s second floor, causing the structure to collapse. The force of the blasts also destroyed two other buildings housing another restaurant and four grocery stores.

Abdu Ahmed Thayfi, 36, a qat seller at the Shagia market, was injured in the second strike:

I heard the first strike, and then a few minutes later, the second. I felt as if everything was spinning around me, and then it went black. I woke up and saw the muscle of my left leg torn open. My right leg bone was snapped in half. My brother Muhammad suddenly appeared and wanted to take me to the hospital, but I refused to go, because I knew they would want to amputate my leg.[74]

Thayfi ended up having a bone transplant in his left leg and avoided an amputation.

Abdullah Amin al-Dhabi, 34, a local freelance editor, told Human Rights Watch that after hearing the explosion, he rushed to the market to find his cousin, a qat seller there:

Three bombs hit a building housing a restaurant and sweet shop in the middle of Shagia market in the town of Zabid on May 12, 2015. This airstrike, and another minutes later on a neighboring lemon grove, killed at least 60 civilians.

Three bombs hit a building housing a restaurant and sweet shop in the middle of Shagia market in the town of Zabid on May 12, 2015. This airstrike, and another minutes later on a neighboring lemon grove, killed at least 60 civilians. (© 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

  • I saw at least 50 limbs ripped apart from the fragments of the explosion. I also saw other bodies of people I could recognize in front of the Shagia restaurant.
  • There I saw my cousin, next to the bodies of three other people I knew: two of them were kids under the age of 12, another was a woman who used to sell bread by the door of the restaurant.
  • Days later, we heard that neighbors were still finding the hands and heads of other victims on their roofs and their shops. The whole area stank.[75]

Dr. Faisal Awad, chairman of the Zabid Relief Society, which led efforts to identify the dead, told Human Rights Watch that the authorities gathered 66 unidentified body parts from the marketplace.[76]

At the same time as the strikes hit Shagia market, two bombs fell on a lemon grove about 600 meters (656 yards) from the market, and about 50 meters (54 yards) from the entrance to the home of Ahmed Bagesh, the owner of one of the restaurants destroyed in the market attack, killing nine civilians, including two women and four children.

Three witnesses said that one of the two bombs did not explode, and that Houthi fighters came soon after the incident and removed the munition.[77]

Just as I heard the strikes on the marketplace, there were also two strikes right outside our doorway. My sister’s husband had just left our house—he had been over for a visit—and when I ran out, I found the top half of his body lying on the path by the door. The bottom half had been blown about 10 meters away.[78]

Thabit Hamdain, 55, a qat seller at the Shagia market, told Human Rights Watch that a large public-sector textile factory about one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the market had been producing military uniforms for the Houthis, and said he suspected this was the target of the airstrike.[79] The factory was unaffected by the airstrikes and had not been subsequently targeted by the time Human Rights Watch visited Zabid on July 26.

Hamdain noted that the day before the airstrike he recognized three mid-level Houthi commanders eating lunch in one of the restaurants in the market. [80] Bagash, the restaurant owner, said that Houthi fighters often came to the market to buy qat and to eat at the restaurants, but they did not “hang around.” He also said there were no Houthi checkpoints near the market.[81]

The presence of small numbers of Houthi military personnel at the market would not make the entire market a legitimate target for a bombing attack. A factory producing uniforms or others goods for the military would be a valid military target, but the workers inside would not be considered civilians directly participating in the hostilities.

The coalition should conduct an investigation to determine whether the attack was unlawfully indiscriminate, whether an attack on the factory during working hours was disproportionate, and whether all feasible precautions had been taken to minimize civilian casualties.

Muthalith Ahim

At about 10 p.m. on July 4, coalition aircraft bombed the marketplace in the middle of the village of Muthalith Ahim, about 20 kilometers south of the Saudi border in Yemen’s northwest. Because the attack occurred during the holy month of Ramadan, the area was crowded with people breaking their fast in restaurants late in the evening. The airstrike destroyed at least six buildings along the main road of the village, including a four-story building housing the Sanaa Restaurant, a small shop and hotel, and a water truck and car parked outside.

Human Rights Watch examined the site on July 24 and spoke to the staff of four hospitals that received the dead and wounded, as well as officials with the Ministry of Human Rights.

  • The attack killed at least 65 people, including at least six African migrants and three children, and wounded at least 105.
  • Forty of the wounded who were sent to al-Jumhouri Hospital in Hajja were suffering from metal fragment injuries, and most needed surgery, according to a nurse who was on call that night.[82]
The remains of two buildings destroyed in a July 4, 2015 airstrike on the marketplace in the village of Muthalith Ahim, which killed at least 65 people. © 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch

The remains of two buildings destroyed in a July 4, 2015 airstrike on the marketplace in the village of Muthalith Ahim, which killed at least 65 people. (© 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

Muhammad Hassan, 35, a waiter at Sanaa Restaurant who was wounded in the attack, told Human Rights Watch that several hours earlier, there had been a strike on a gas station about two kilometers (1.2 miles) further north.  Then, about an hour later, there was a strike on a football field about one kilometer (0.6 miles) away, and at the same time another strike on an empty building about two kilometers away.

He said he had heard from some people in town that the Houthis were using the empty building to store weapons.[83] None of the other interviewees raised this allegation with Human Rights Watch.

  • Hassan estimated that at the time of the strike, there were about 50 people in the restaurant, and about 100 in the hotel above.
  • Outside the restaurant, there was a large open space with fishmongers and people selling vegetables, cell phones, qat, and other items.
  • He believed that there were also about 50 to 60 African migrants, as well as many displaced Yemenis from northern border villages, sitting on the steps of the restaurant at the time of the bombing. Hassan told Human Rights Watch:

I was outside in the alley beside the restaurant taking out the trash when the strike hit. I saw fire and smelled gunpowder. The pressure of the explosion threw me back about 10 meters into a pile of trash bags. I tasted blood, and felt a pain in my chest, and then I lost consciousness. I woke up here at the Hajja hospital, only to find out that 13 waiters from the restaurant who worked with me were killed in the explosion.[84]

Muhammad’s doctor said he had metal fragment injuries to his left shoulder, chest, and right leg. After multiple surgeries, Muhammad had yet to regain movement in his left arm.[85]

Salem al-Mashwali, 40, a truck driver who was in the market at the time, described the scene after the explosion:

I counted 45 bodies intact, many lying under the stalls of the qat sellers. I saw other bodies that had been shattered to bits, some already stiff. People all around me were shouting. I saw the driver of the water truck, a friend of mine, and his assistant both dead in the vehicle, as it was burning. I witnessed a terrible thing, a very scary scene.[86]

Dr. Adnan al-Wazzan, a pharmacist at al-Jumhouri Hospital in Hajja, some 140 kilometers (87 miles) away, drove an ambulance to Muthalith Ahim after the strike:

We got news of the strike about 30 minutes after it happened, but we waited two hours before leaving because we were scared the coalition might target us on the road. We finally left at 12:30 a.m. While on the road we passed a truck carrying 23 of the victims—we stopped the driver to see if we should help the people on the truck or keep driving. It was piled high with bodies, heads open and bleeding. Two of the people in the truck were already dead, another 10 were near death. We kept on driving and made it to the Bani Hassan medical center [in Hajja, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Muthalith Ahim], where most of the wounded had been brought. I will never forget the scene—there were bodies all over the floor.[87]

Abd al-Rauf al-Silwi, 52, a mechanical engineer who went to the site of the bombing early the next morning, told Human Rights Watch:

When I arrived, there were still many bodies—most of their faces looked normal, like they were sleeping, just with some marks from metal fragments. In front of Sanaa Restaurant, I saw one man with his backbone sticking out of his neck. By the qat market, I saw dozens of bodies, charred, some headless, others without legs. I saw 10 bodies inside the Hadramawt Restaurant, many missing their arms and legs, all killed while they were in the middle of having their dinner. The arm of one man was still attached to the large water cooler by the entrance. A water truck had exploded, and I saw the head of the driver hanging off the end of what was left of the truck.

It is not clear if any Houthi or allied fighters were killed in the attack. Al-Mashwali, the truck driver, told Human Rights Watch there had been a Houthi checkpoint about 50 meters (55 yards) from where the strike hit, manned by 10 to 12 Houthi fighters.[88]

Witnesses who spoke to Human Rights Watch said the strike did not damage the checkpoint.

Even if the checkpoint, a legitimate military objective, was the target of the attack, the coalition should conduct an investigation to determine if all feasible precautions were taken to minimize the harm to civilians, and whether the attack as carried out was unlawfully indiscriminate or disproportionate.

Amran Markets

yemen1115_casualties_amran_markets-01Starting about 4:30 p.m. on July 6, bombs hit two locations in the governorate of Amran, north of Sanaa, killing at least 29 civilians, including a woman and 15 children, and wounding at least 20 civilians.

The first strike hit an area known as Bawn market, where vegetable sellers gather near the main road between Amran and Raydah, about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) northeast of Amran City.

Mufarih, 35, a potato seller who only goes by his first name, told Human Rights Watch he was walking towards the local mosque because he had missed the afternoon prayer, when the bomb hit:

Khaled `Odah, 35, a local vegetable seller who had his right leg amputated after sustaining injuries in an airstrike on Bawn market outside the town of Amran on July 6, 2015. © 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch

Khaled `Odah, 35, a local vegetable seller who had his right leg amputated after sustaining injuries in an airstrike on Bawn market outside the town of Amran on July 6, 2015. ( © 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

I suddenly saw all this dust rise and felt something hit my back, and then I blacked out. I woke up at Raydah Hospital at about 6 p.m. The doctors had removed a metal fragment from my back. I later went back to the site of the strike and saw how close I had been, I was only 15 meters away from where the bomb landed.[89]

Nishwan, 21, a vegetable seller who only goes by his first name, described the blast to Human Rights Watch:

It was like fire lifting me into the air. My leg was broken in three places. I tried to stand up, but couldn’t.[90]

Radwan Yahya Ahmed, 25, a fruit seller injured in the strike, showed Human Rights Watch his wounds. Doctors had to remove large pieces of skin from his shoulders to transplant to his cheeks.[91] He and other witnesses to the strike interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they had not seen any Houthi or allied military vehicles on the road at the time of the strike, nor did they know of any military targets in the area.

  • The Bawn market strike killed at least 10 civilians, including nine children, and wounded at least six.
Bawn market outside the town of Amran was hit by a bomb on July 6, 2015, killing 10 civilians. (© 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

Bawn market outside the town of Amran was hit by a bomb on July 6, 2015, killing 10 civilians. (© 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

Minutes later, a second bomb struck the Jawb market along the road just over one kilometer (0.62 miles) further north, damaging a gas station, a car outside the local mosque, and the home of Mansour Ahmed Taqi, 40, a local farmer.[92] The market had been there for at least two years and was the largest in the area, attracting hundreds of people daily.[93]

Faten Saleh said she was standing at the doorway of her home with her baby and her older son and daughter when the bomb hit the first market.

She saw her husband, ZahirMabkhoot Taqi, running towards her with their son Taqi, 9, close behind:

He [Zahir] was calling and waving at me to grab my bag and to leave the house as quickly as possible, saying that the planes might bomb us as well. About 15 meters (16 yards) from our house, suddenly another bomb landed. A piece of metal hit him in the back and cut through his side, killing him. We found Taqi’s body ripped to pieces. My husband’s cousin was close by, but was only wounded. My husband was just a simple farmer, but later on TV, they said he was a Houthi trainer. I don’t know why they would lie about that, but I promise you it’s not true.[94]

  • Mabkhoot al-Jawbi, a local farmer, 70, said his son, grandson, aged 17, and two cousins were killed in the blast. He helped with the burial at the local mosque and said that he helped with 17 funerals of local villagers.[95]
Jawb market outside the town of Amran was hit by a bomb on July 6, 2015, minutes after a bomb struck nearby Bawn market, killing at least 19 civilians and damaging a gas station, a car outside the local mosque, and the home of Mansour Ahmed Taqi. © 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch

Jawb market outside the town of Amran was hit by a bomb on July 6, 2015, minutes after a bomb struck nearby Bawn market, killing at least 19 civilians and damaging a gas station, a car outside the local mosque, and the home of Mansour Ahmed Taqi. (© 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

Mansour Ahmad Taqi, another relative of Zahir Taqi, said he was home when the strike hit, damaging part of his house.

When he came to the gate, he saw at least 20 wounded and dead lying in the market place, at least three in the car outside the local mosque, another person lying at the gate of the mosque, and another three people lying near the entrance to the home of Zahir Taqi—namely Zahir, his son Taqi Zahir Mabkhoot Taqi, aged 9, and his cousin Habib Saleh Taqi. “His son’s hand was found inside the electricity meter of the house on the other side of the road days later,” Mansour Taqi told Human Rights Watch.[96]

  • The Jawb market strike killed 22 people, at least 19 of them civilians, including one woman and six children, and wounded 14.
  • Four of the dead were members of the Taqi family.
  • Three people who were in a car at the time of the attack had not been identified at the time that Human Rights Watch visited, so it was not possible to determine whether they were civilians.

Al-Jawbi told Human Rights Watch that after the attack, there was no more market in the area:

Now there is nothing. People are afraid.” He said that he was unaware of any military targets in the area, such as military vehicles, at the time of the strike.[97]

According to Khaled Sanad, the representative of an aid organization linked to the Houthis, a third airstrike hit a security checkpoint south of Amran, about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) away, at about the same time as the attack on the two markets, killing four Houthi members manning the checkpoint and three civilians who were on the road at the time.[98]

Shara`a, Ibb

yemen1115_casualties_sharaa-01On August 8, starting at 8:30 p.m., coalition aircraft dropped five bombs in the span of several minutes, destroying eight homes in the village of Shara`a, located in southern Ibb governorate’s Radhma district. The village has a population of about 800 people.[99]

The strikes killed eight civilians, including three women and three children, and left at least two civilians wounded.

The al-Salam military base, which was occupied by Houthi forces, is located two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the village.[100] Although the base was apparently not struck, 10 minutes before bombs hit Shara`a, two strikes hit the Al-Ahram event hall, located next to the base.

Human Rights Watch was not able to visit the village, but spoke to seven residents by telephone.

At 8:30 p.m. the first bomb hit the home of Mane`a al-Haddi, killing his mother, wife, sister and his sister’s two children, ages 6 and 7. The blast wounded him as well. He told Human Rights Watch:

The remnants of the house of Sheikh Muhammad al-Haddi, which was damaged in an airstrike on August 8, 2015. The home had attracted many visitors, as the only house in the village with a generator, and there were about 70 people present at the time of the bombing. Noone in the house was wounded. © 2015 Private

The remnants of the house of Sheikh Muhammad al-Haddi, which was damaged in an airstrike on August 8, 2015. The home had attracted many visitors, as the only house in the village with a generator, and there were about 70 people present at the time of the bombing. Noone in the house was wounded. (© 2015 Private)

The first strike that hit the village targeted my house. I ran out to see what had happened, despite being injured. But two minutes later, my cousin’s house was hit by a second bomb. Then minutes later, two more fell, one on my house again, and a fourth on my cousin’s house again.[101]

Another resident described the scene after the first strike:

I never expected to see something similar, people running around and crying. It was horrific. We were trying to pull some of the people out the rubble when two minutes later another bomb fell and sent us running.[102]

Minutes after the first strike, a bomb hit the home of Sheikh Muhammad al-Haddi, a retired army general, only a few meters from the first strike.[103] His home was a gathering place for many in the village, who used his generator to charge their cellphones and laptops because it was the only house with reliable electricity. There were about 70 people at his house at the time of the strike, charging their devices, watching TV, playing cards, talking, and chewing qat, according to Mane`a al-Haddi, who was there at the time.[104]

The attack severely damaged Sheikh al-Haddi’s house and left it uninhabitable. Two men who ran from the house after the initial blast on the home of Mane`a al-Haddi were killed.

The blast also destroyed the home of his neighbor, Nagi al-Masan, killing 3-year-old Saeed Waheb Tanbash, who was inside at the time.

About two minutes later, two more bombs hit at the same time, one on the southern corner of Mane`a al-Haddi’s home, and one by the entrance to Sheikh al-Haddi’s house. Two minutes later a fifth bomb fell on the neighboring home of Naji Saleh Hadash, a retired military officer.

Mane`a al-Haddi told Human Rights Watch, “It is the first time our village witnessed anything like this, the village is still in a state of terror. Even the dogs run away whenever a plane passes by now.

Nasir Mohsen al-Thaibani, a 33-year-old local resident, told Human Rights Watch that at the time of the strikes, Houthi forces were at the al-Salam military base, but he said the base was not hit by any of the airstrikes.[105]

All of the witnesses interviewed said that there were no Houthi or allied forces in the village or passing through at the time of the strikes.

Sawan, Sanaa

yemen1115_casualties_sawan-01At about 12:30 a.m. on July 12, an airstrike killed 23 people, all from the same family, including seven women and 14 children, from the ages of 2 months to 16 years, in Sanaa’s residential neighborhood of Sawan. The strike also wounded 31 people. The area is populated by the marginalized muhamashee people part of Yemen’s minority group, about 11 percent of the population, that suffers social segregation and discrimination, including in accessing public education and employment.

Remnants of the control fins of a laser-guided bomb found at the site after an airstrike on the residential neighborhood of Sawan in Sanaa, the capital, on July 12, 2015. © 2015 Amnesty International

Remnants of the control fins of a laser-guided bomb found at the site after an airstrike on the residential neighborhood of Sawan in Sanaa, the capital, on July 12, 2015. (© 2015 Amnesty International)

Human Rights Watch examined the site on July 20. The blast destroyed 10 small, single-story houses and damaged another 50. Remnants of the control fins of a laser-guided bomb were photographed by Amnesty International at the site of the attack.

We were unable to discern whether the bomb was deliberately guided to the impact point or whether there was a malfunction of the guidance system or other mistake that caused the bomb to strike this spot.

Residents told Human Rights Watch that an airstrike hit the External Medical Clinic, a military medical facility located next to the Military Engineers’ Compound, about 500 meters away, about five minutes after the strike on the homes. Human Rights sought access to the compound, but armed guards denied us entry, saying they would need to get authorization.

Majid al-Jamal, 30, whose relatives were killed in the blast, said he was sleeping at the time the bomb struck:

The rubble after a July 12, 2015 airstrike destroyed homes in the residential neighborhood of Sawan in Sanaa, the capital. The airstrike killed 23 civilians. © 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch

The rubble after a July 12, 2015 airstrike destroyed homes in the residential neighborhood of Sawan in Sanaa, the capital. The airstrike killed 23 civilians. (© 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

I didn’t hear the strike itself, or the plane. But I awoke to the sound of bricks being smashed against the side of my home. I jumped out of bed and rushed outside and saw burned bodies, but I could not do anything to help.[106]

Yumna Obayth, 35, a mother of 10 whose house was damaged in the strike, said:

Why, I ask, why would they bomb us? We have no guns, no food, nothing. We are poor. They brought down the house over the heads of my children. Now we are living outside in the street, what can I do?[107]

The Military Engineers’ Compound was a legitimate military target. The nearby military medical facility was not a valid military target—medical facilities, including those serving military personnel, may not be targeted unless they are being used to commit hostile acts and a warning has been given. The proximity of the hospital to the engineer’s compound unnecessarily placed it at risk of being damaged in an attack on the compound.

Yareem

yemen1115_casualties_yareem-01At about 2 a.m. on July 19, airstrikes killed at least 16 civilians, including three women and nine children, and wounded at least 16 civilians, in Yareem town, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Sanaa.

Human Rights Watch examined the site on July 22. The strike had partially damaged, and in some cases completely destroyed, 11 one-story residential homes and a two-story building.

Human Rights Watch also established that the site is located about 200 meters (219 yards) from the entrance to the 55th Rocket Artillery Brigade.

Residents told Human Rights Watch that since the beginning of the air campaign in March, and on that night, they heard anti-aircraft guns being fired from the base. One nearby resident said that the now-dismantled Republican Guard, the military wing under the command of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, had controlled the base since 1994.

The base had been the main depot of Scud ballistic missiles for the Yemeni military, the resident said, but those had been removed about four years ago, and now the main weapons at the base were artillery rockets. There had been as many as 2,000 troops at the base in the past, he said, but only 300 troops were there since current conflict started.[108]

Local residents told Human Rights Watch that at about 1:30 a.m., three strikes hit the military base at 10-minute intervals. The fourth strike hit the residential area.

Sabah Saleh Ahmed al-Boghomy, 50, said she and her husband owned most of the houses in the neighborhood, and her relatives lived in several of them. She said she was asleep at the time of the strike and was awakened by her daughter screaming and shaking her, saying that planes were bombing the military base. Al-Boghomy tried to calm her by taking her outside:

Hana Sa`ad al-Nazhi and her son, who were both injured when an airstrike hit a residential area in Yareem on July 19, 2015, killing at least 16 civilians. (© 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

Hana Sa`ad al-Nazhi and her son, who were both injured when an airstrike hit a residential area in Yareem on July 19, 2015, killing at least 16 civilians. (© 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

After we left the home, all of a sudden the windows of the house shattered and the roof collapsed. We heard a loud explosion but had no idea that it was in our own yard. At the time my three sons, their wives and children and my two [other] daughters were still inside the house…. I remember hearing my neighbor screaming, “Save my children, save me, we are under the rubble!” [109]

  • Her family survived the attack without injury, but she said she knew of at least 12 neighbors who were killed in the strike. The attack destroyed six of their family homes and three cars.

A local resident, Hana Saad al-Nazhi, told Human Rights Watch that when she heard the first explosion, she grabbed her children and hid in a small room in their home:

We stayed in that room while all the strikes happened, so I assumed that my brothers were safe and had escaped, only to realize when I went outside that one strike had hit my brother’s house. It wiped his house to the ground, they blew it up and killed him and his daughters… What was the military target in my brother’s house? [110]

Another brother, Radwan Saad al-Nazhi, came to the site of the strike after hearing the blasts from his home, located a few streets away.

  • He told Human Rights Watch that altogether eight members of two of his brothers’ families were killed, five of them children.
  • His sister, Hana Saad al-Nazhi, and her children were the only ones who survived the airstrike, but with injuries:

I am not employed, my brothers were, I am not. I make a living doing odd jobs in the streets.… I had to take my sister and her three kids out of the hospital because I could not pay their bill.[111]

Residents sifting through the rubble of homes destroyed in an airstrike three days prior in Yareem town. The strike killed at least 16 civilians. (© 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

Residents sifting through the rubble of homes destroyed in an airstrike three days prior in Yareem town. The strike killed at least 16 civilians. (© 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

Muhammad al-Faqih, 45, said he was sitting in his living room when he heard the initial strikes on the military base. He grabbed his clothes and woke his five children and wife, telling them to get dressed and be ready to leave. His son Osama al-Faqih, 20, was walking down the steps out of the house just as the strike hit about 20 meters (7 feet) from the door of their home. Muhammad al-Faqih, standing behind him just inside the door, was blown back into the house:

We scrambled to our feet and got out of the house, and I heard cries. I turned to my left and saw my neighbor, an older woman. She was lying on the ground, with a large rock crushing her legs. She was begging us to help her so we did. After we helped move it, we rushed off to get my son, who we realized was injured, to the hospital. As we got to the main road we saw another neighbor, Salma, wandering along, and wailing for help. She was badly burned and her head was open and gushing blood.… I don’t know what happened to her. [112]

Osama had a metal shard lodged in his neck that the doctors planned to remove, Muhammad al-Faqih told Human Rights Watch. He said that they were lucky that other families had helped to pay their medical bill. His house was only slightly damaged by the strike.

Ali Muhammad al-Milah was in his house, which was destroyed in the strike, at the time of the blast:

I didn’t see anything when the explosion happened, it was all black. My ears started ringing, they are still ringing now, days later. I came back the next morning and saw five bodies just lying on the ground, including the bodies of two young kids. Only yesterday when I was here they found the body of another kid, a young girl. They pulled her out of the rubble.[113]

Another resident said he heard a fifth strike about 10 minutes later, again on the military base.[114] The military base was a legitimate military target. The attack that struck the residential neighborhood should be investigated by the coalition to determine if it was unlawfully targeted and whether all feasible precautions had been taken to minimize civilian loss of life and property.

Mokha Steam Power Plant

yemen1115_casualties_mokha-01On July 24, in a series of attacks that began between 9:30 and 10 p.m., coalition aircraft repeatedly struck two residential compounds of the Mokha Steam Power Plant, which housed plant workers and their family members, killing at least 65 civilians, including 13 women and 10 children, and wounding at least 55.

The plant is located outside Mokha City, a western port about 280 kilometers (174 miles) southwest of Sanaa. The main residential compound is one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the power plant, and the smaller compound is adjacent to the plant.

Human Rights Watch examined the site on July 26. Craters and building damage showed that six bombs had struck the plant’s main residential compound. This compound housed at least 200 families, according to the plant’s director general.[115] One bomb had struck a separate compound for short-term workers about a kilometer (0.6 miles) north of the main compound, destroying the water tank for the compounds, and two bombs had struck the beach and an intersection nearby. Bombs hit two apartment buildings in the main compound directly, collapsing part of their roofs.

Other bombs exploded between the buildings, including in the main courtyard, stripping the exterior walls off dozens of apartments, leaving only the load-bearing pillars standing. Workers and residents at the compounds told Human Rights Watch that one or more aircraft dropped nine bombs in separate sorties in intervals of a few minutes.

Wajida Ahmed Najid, 37, a resident in one of the compounds, whose husband is a plant employee, said that when the first strike hit, she grabbed her three children close and they huddled together hoping the danger would pass:

After the third strike, the entire building began to collapse on top of us. Then I knew we needed to leave because it was not safe to stay. I grabbed my girls and we started running in the direction of the beach, but as we were running pieces of metal were flying everywhere, and one hit Malak, my 9-year-old daughter. Thank God she is going to be okay. While we were running, I saw bodies, seven of them, just lying on the ground, in pieces.[116]

A doctor at Amal Hospital in Hodaida told Human Rights Watch that they had removed a metal fragment from Malak’s abdomen.

Khalil Abdullah Idriss, 35, a nurse at the plant’s clinic, said that he rushed to al-Salam clinic in Mokha City when he heard news of the attack.[117] There, he and other medics administered basic first aid, then sent the wounded on to hospitals in Hodaida. He said that within an hour of the airstrikes, they had received at least 30 wounded and eight bodies. At 1 a.m., he said, he went to the main compound:

The residential compound of a steam power plant in the coastal city of Mokha two days after a July 24, 2015 airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition killed 65 workers and their family members. (© 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

The residential compound of a steam power plant in the coastal city of Mokha two days after a July 24, 2015 airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition killed 65 workers and their family members. (© 2015 Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

As I walked through the gates, I saw my friend, an engineer at the plant, Abdu Samid al-Subaie. He was lying on the ground, just outside his apartment. He had a deep gash to his waist and he was bleeding to death as his two children lay at his side screaming and crying. But it was hopeless. At the same time, the airplanes were still buzzing above us. We could hear them for hours afterward.[118]

Loai Nabeel, 20, who works at a shop in the compound, said he rushed to his family’s apartment when the attack started.[119] A second bomb hit the apartment before he got there, collapsing the roof. He found his mother and younger brother by the entrance and brought them to the beach before he went back to search for his sisters Hadeel, 12, and Taghreed, 17:

It was dark. It took me 10 minutes to find Hadeel under the rubble. The bomb hit the roof of the room where she was sleeping and her head was seriously wounded. I found Taghreed in another room with minor injuries to her head. Hadeel is still in a coma.[120]

Power plants that produce electricity used by the military are legitimate military targets. However, the harm incurred to the civilian population by an attack on a power plant can be enormous, making its destruction unlawfully disproportionate, as the long-term harm to civilians will be far greater than the immediate military gain.

The Mokha power plant, built in 1986, was not struck in the attack. Human Rights Watch found no sign that either of the two residential compounds for the power plants had been used for military purposes. More than a dozen workers and residents said that there had been no Houthi or other military forces at the compounds.

Early in the morning of July 25, a news ticker on Al-Arabiya TV, a Saudi-owned media outlet, reported that coalition forces had attacked a military air defense base in Mokha. The ticker was swiftly taken down and the story can no longer be found anywhere on Al-Arabiya’s website.

Human Rights Watch identified a military facility about 800 meters (875 yards) southeast of the Mokha Steam Power Plant’s main compound, which plant workers said had been a military air defense base. The plant workers said that it had been empty for months, and Human Rights Watch saw no activity or personnel at the base from the outside, except for two guards.

Al-Sham Water Bottling Factory

yemen1115_casualties_al-sham-01On August 30 at about 3:50 a.m., an airstrike hit Al-Sham Water Bottling Factory in the outskirts of Abs. The strike destroyed the factory and killed 14 workers, including three boys, who were nearing the end of their night shift, and wounded 11 more. Many of the dead and wounded, as well as the owner of the factory, were from the same family.

Hamza Abdu Muhammad Rouzom, 26, a factory worker present at the time of the explosion, told Human Rights Watch he was on the shift that started at 8 p.m. and was set to end at 5 a.m.:

Because we work with noisy machines, if there were planes flying overhead, we would not have heard them. The explosion was almost like a dream, it all happened so quickly. I heard a whizzing sound for a second, then a huge explosion. I lost consciousness for at least 30 minutes, and when I woke up I saw people were trying to help me. I was covered in blood and dust and had a big cut on my right foot. They carried me to my car, and as they did, I looked around me and saw fire everywhere. I saw my friends and coworkers wounded, some completely burned. It was one of the worst moments of my life.[121]

Residents gather on August 30, 2015 on the outskirts of Abs at Al-Sham Water Bottling Factory, which an airstrike hit hours earlier, killing 14 workers. (© 2015 Khaled Ibrahim Musaed)

Residents gather on August 30, 2015 on the outskirts of Abs at Al-Sham Water Bottling Factory, which an airstrike hit hours earlier, killing 14 workers. (© 2015 Khaled Ibrahim Musaed)

He was taken to a hospital in Hodaida, but because of a lack of medical supplies, was transferred to a second hospital soon after.

Khaled Ibrahim Musaed, 34, a journalist who lives about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the factory, said that coalition aircraft carried out more than a dozen strikes on a range of military and government installations that night in other parts of Hajja governorate, and the strike on the factory was the last.[122]

Two workers at the plant told Human Rights Watch that this was the only strike in the direct vicinity and that they knew of no military targets close to the area.

Later on August 30, after the airstrike, Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, the military spokesman for the coalition, reportedly told Reuters that the plant had been used by the Houthis to make explosive devices, and was not, in fact, a bottling factory[123] All of the individuals Human Rights Watch interviewed said that plant was being used to bottle water and was not used for any military purposes.

A group of international journalists traveled to the site of the blast two days after it was hit and reported that they could not find evidence of any military targets in the area.[124]

They said that they carefully examined the site, and took photos and videos of piles of scorched plastic bottles melted together from the heat of the explosion. They could not find any evidence that the factory was being used for military purposes.

V. Acknowledgments

This report was researched and written by Belkis Wille, researcher for the Middle East and North Africa division, with assistance from Ole Solvang, senior researcher in the Emergencies division, and former Yemen research assistants Osamah al-Fakih and Abdullah Qaid.

Joe Stork and Michael Page, Middle East and North Africa division deputy directors, Ole Solvang, senior researcher in the Emergencies division, and Robin Shulman, program editor, edited the report. James Ross, legal and policy director, provided legal review. Mark Hiznay, senior researcher in the Arms division, Josh Lyons, satellite imagery analyst, Bede Sheppard, deputy director of the Children’s Rights division, and Adam Coogle, Middle East and North Africa researcher, provided specialist review. Sandy Elkhoury, Middle East and North Africa senior associate, Kathy Mills, publications specialist, and Jose Martinez, senior coordinator, prepared the report for publication.

🔝

Human Rights Watch: Appendix III – Unlawful Coalition Airstrikes Yemen.


Please send inquiries and permission request to re-blog this article to Alistair.Reign@Gmail.com, thank you.

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